I wasn’t expecting to love Texas. In fact I was glad we were just going for a weekend and wouldn’t be wasting any of our precious vacation time on it. So I was surprised when Austin became one of my favorite places in North America.
“Keep Austin Weird” is the unofficial slogan of Austin, and with bumper stickers like this, what’s not to like?
Austin is the capital of Texas, and while I haven’t been to Dallas or Houston, I’ve been told by a lot of people that Austin trumps both of these. Known as the least “Texan” city in Texas, the people here are generally pretty liberal for Texans, and the University gives the city a young, energetic feeling. The weather was warm enough for shorts and tank tops in January which was good coming from Chicago, but I can imagine the heat would be oppressive in summer.
We checked out the State Capitol building which is the largest State Capitol in the United States. Located downtown, this building is massive, made almost entirely of granite, and the ground floor has pictures and portraits of all the Texas Governors. Of course we had to go through metal detectors to get inside, but I’m used to that now. We got to have a look through the House and Senate chambers and the whole place was full of Texan history. There are free tours every half hour, which are supposed to be quite informative but we were on a schedule.
We also saw the University of Texas and went clubbing on 6th street which gets blocked off at around 11pm for pedestrians only. 6th street had a great vibe, with lots of young people, and huge clubs with rooftop dancing.
Although I loved Austin, my favorite place was definitely Bandera.
A two hour drive from Austin, Bandera is the “Cowboy Capital of the World”. With just over 1200 people, it’s not big but we had an amazing time.
We all wanted to do some horseback riding so we booked a trek at one of the many dude ranches in the area. The guy who took us out was a “real” cowboy, and the ride itself was long enough to see some of the ranch, but short enough that we weren’t too sore the next day. The ranch horses were sure-footed and the scenery was gorgeous.
There are hitching posts outside the bars in Bandera and the man who took us on our horse trek told us that the locals still take their horses to the pubs (better than drink driving!)
Bandera has a Western display on Saturdays, in front of the Bandera County Courthouse on Main Street from 1-4pm, and Gunfights on the side street from 1-3pm. This is free and it was a very entertaining show. The entertainers pose for pictures afterwards, and they let us pose with their hats and guns.
We had a southern meal of fried chicken and even grits (which were delicious by the way), and then we had a look in the stores which sell everything from cowboy hats and boots, to ponchos and guns.
I had an amazing time in Texas, and I would love to go back to Bandera and stay at one of the dude ranches for a few days. The people in Texas were incredibly warm and friendly, and I think Austin would be a great place to live. Just goes to show I shouldn’t judge a place before I visit it.